Solicitor General of the United States

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United States Solicitor General
Flag of the United States Solicitor General.svg
Flag of the United States Solicitor General
Donald Verrilli -DOJ Portrait-.jpg
Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.

since June 9, 2011
Department of Justice
Office of the Solicitor General
Reports to The Attorney General
Appointer The President
with Senate advice and consent
Constituting instrument 28 U.S.C. § 505
Formation October 1870
Prior to this date,
the Attorney General exercised
most of the duties now performed
by the Solicitor General.
First holder Benjamin H. Bristow
Website Office of the Solicitor General
Organization of the office of the Solicitor General

The United States Solicitor General is the third-highest ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice. The United States Solicitor General is the person appointed to represent the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court of the United States. The current Solicitor General, Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., was confirmed by the United States Senate on June 6, 2011, and sworn in on June 9, 2011.[1][2] The Solicitor General determines the legal position that the United States will take in the Supreme Court. In addition to supervising and conducting cases in which the government is a party, the office of the Solicitor General also files amicus curiae briefs in cases in which the federal government has a significant interest in the legal issue. The office of the Solicitor General argues on behalf of the government in virtually every case in which the United States is a party, and also argues in most of the cases in which the government has filed an amicus brief. In the federal courts of appeal, the Office of the Solicitor General reviews cases decided against the United States and determines whether the government will seek review in the Supreme Court. The office of the Solicitor General also reviews cases decided against the United States in the federal district courts and approves every case in which the government files an appeal.

Composition of the Office of the Solicitor General

The Solicitor General is assisted by four Deputy Solicitors General and seventeen Assistants to the Solicitor General. Three of the deputies are career attorneys in the Department of Justice. The remaining deputy is known as the "Principal Deputy," sometimes called the "political deputy" and, like the Solicitor General, typically leaves at the end of an administration. The current Principal Deputy is Ian Heath Gershengorn, who succeeded Sri Srinivasan, who left after being confirmed as a United States Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.[3] The other deputies currently are Michael Dreeben, Edwin Kneedler, and Malcolm Stewart.

The Solicitor General or one of the deputies typically argues the most important cases in the Supreme Court. Cases not argued by the Solicitor General may be argued by one of the assistants or another government attorney. The Solicitors General tend to argue 6–9 cases per Supreme Court term, while deputies argue 4–5 cases and assistants each argue 2–3 cases.[4]


The Solicitor General, who has offices in the Supreme Court Building as well as the Department of Justice Headquarters, has been called the "tenth justice"[5] as a result of the relationship of mutual respect that inevitably develops between the justices and the Solicitor General (and their respective staffs of clerks and deputies). As the most frequent advocate before the Court, the Office of the Solicitor General generally argues dozens of times each term. As a result, the Solicitor General tends to remain particularly comfortable during oral arguments that other advocates would find intimidating. Furthermore, when the office of the Solicitor General endorses a petition for certiorari, review is frequently granted, which is remarkable given that only 75–125 of the over 7,500 petitions submitted each term are granted review by the Court.[6]

Other than the justices themselves, the Solicitor General is among the most influential and knowledgeable members of the legal community with regard to Supreme Court litigation. Five Solicitors General have later served on the Supreme Court: William Howard Taft (who served as the 27th President of the United States before becoming Chief Justice of the United States), Stanley Forman Reed, Robert H. Jackson, Thurgood Marshall, and Elena Kagan. Some who have had other positions in the office of the Solicitor General have also later been appointed to the Supreme Court. For example, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. was the Principal Deputy Solicitor General (and Acting SG for one case[7]) during the George H. W. Bush administration and Associate Justice Samuel Alito was an Assistant to the Solicitor General. Only one former Solicitor General has been nominated to the Supreme Court unsuccessfully, that being Robert Bork; however, no sitting Solicitor General has ever been denied such an appointment. Eight other Solicitors General have served on the United States Courts of Appeals.

Within the Justice Department, the Solicitor General exerts significant influence on all appeals brought by the department. The Solicitor General is the only U.S. officer that is statutorily required to be "learned in law."[8] Whenever the DOJ wins at the trial stage and the losing party appeals, the concerned division of the DOJ responds automatically and proceeds to defend the ruling in the appellate process. However, if the DOJ is the losing party at the trial stage, an appeal can only be brought with the permission of the Solicitor General. For example, should the tort division lose a jury trial in federal district court, that ruling cannot be appealed by the Appellate Office without the approval of the Solicitor General.

Call for the Views of the Solicitor General

When determining whether to grant certiorari in a case where the federal government is not a party, the Court will sometimes request the Solicitor General to weigh in, a procedure referred to as a "Call for the Views of the Solicitor General" (CVSG).[9] In response to a CVSG, the Solicitor General will file a brief opining on whether the petition should be granted and, usually, which party should prevail.[10]

Although the CVSG is technically an invitation, the Solicitor General's office treats it as tantamount to a command.[10] Philip Elman, who served as an attorney in the Solicitor General's office and who was primary author of the federal government's brief in Brown v. Board of Education, wrote "When the Supreme Court invites you, that's the equivalent of a royal command. An invitation from the Supreme Court just can't be rejected."[11][12]

The Court typically issues a CVSG where the justices believe that the petition is important, and may be considering granting it, but would like a legal opinion before making that decision.[11] Examples include where there is a federal interest involved in the case; where there is a new issue for which there is no established precedent; or where an issue has evolved, perhaps becoming more complex or affecting other issues.[11]

Although there is no deadline by which the Solicitor General is required to respond to a CVSG, briefs in response to the CVSG are generally filed at three times of the year: late May, allowing the petition to be considered before the Court breaks for summer recess; August, allowing the petition to go on the "summer list", to be considered at the end of recess; and December, allowing the case to be argued in the remainder of the current Supreme Court term.[10]


Several traditions have developed since the Office of Solicitor General was established in 1870. Most obviously to spectators at oral argument before the Court, the Solicitor General and his or her deputies traditionally appear in formal morning coats,[13] although Elena Kagan, the first woman to hold the office, elected to forgo the practice.[14]

During oral argument, the members of the Court often address the Solicitor General as "General."[15][16]

Another tradition, possibly unique to the United States, is the practice of confession of error. If the government prevailed in the lower court but the Solicitor General disagrees with the result, he or she may confess error, after which the Supreme Court will vacate the lower court's ruling and send the case back for reconsideration.[17]

List of Solicitors General

Picture Solicitor General Date of Service Appointing President
Benjamin Helm Bristow, Brady-Handy bw photo portrait, ca 1870-1880.jpg Benjamin H. Bristow October 1870 – November 1872 Ulysses Grant
Samuel F. Phillips.jpg Samuel F. Phillips November 1872 – May 1885
John Goode - Brady-Handy.jpg John Goode May 1885 – August 1886 Grover Cleveland
George A. Jenks.jpg George A. Jenks July 1886 – May 1889
Orlow W. Chapman.jpg Orlow W. Chapman May 1889 – January 1890 Benjamin Harrison
William Howard Taft, Bain bw photo portrait, 1908.jpg William Howard Taft February 1890 – March 1892
Charles H. Aldrich.jpeg Charles H. Aldrich March 1892 – May 1893
Lawrence Maxwell Jr.jpeg Lawrence Maxwell, Jr. April 1893 – January 1895 Grover Cleveland
Holmes Conrad.jpg Holmes Conrad February 1895 – July 1897
Richards-large.jpg John K. Richards July 1897 – March 1903 William McKinley
Hoyt-large.jpg Henry M. Hoyt February 1903 – March 1909 Theodore Roosevelt
Bowers-large.jpg Lloyd Wheaton Bowers April 1909 – September 1910 William Taft
FWLehman.jpg Frederick W. Lehmann December 1910 – July 1912
Bullitt-large.jpg William Marshall Bullitt July 1912 – March 1913
75px John W. Davis August 1913 – November 1918 Woodrow Wilson
Alexander Campbell King by Gari Milchers (1922).jpg Alexander C. King November 1918 – May 1920
75px William L. Frierson June 1920 – June 1921
75px James M. Beck June 1921 – June 1925 Warren Harding
75px William D. Mitchell June 1925 – March 1929 Calvin Coolidge
Charles Evans Hughes jr.jpg Charles Evans Hughes, Jr May 1929 – April 1930 Herbert Hoover
75px Thomas D. Thacher March 1930 – May 1933
75px James Crawford Biggs May 1933 – March 1935 Franklin Roosevelt
75px Stanley Reed March 1935 – January 1938
75px Robert H. Jackson March 1938 – January 1940
Francis Biddle cph.3b27524.jpg Francis Biddle January 1940 – September 1941
75px Charles H. Fahy November 1941 – September 1945
J. Howard McGrath.jpg J. Howard McGrath October 1945 – October 1946 Harry Truman
75px Philip B. Perlman July 1947 – August 1952
Cummings-large.jpg Walter J. Cummings, Jr. December 1952 – March 1953
75px Simon Sobeloff February 1954 – July 1956 Dwight Eisenhower
J. Lee Rankin.jpg J. Lee Rankin August 1956 – January 1961
ArchibaldCox.jpg Archibald Cox January 1961 – July 1965 John F. Kennedy
75px Thurgood Marshall August 1965 – August 1967 Lyndon Johnson
Griswolderwin.jpg Erwin N. Griswold October 1967 – March 1973[18]
Robert Bork.jpg Robert H. Bork March 1973[18] – January 1977 Richard Nixon
Daniel Mortimer Friedman CAFC portrait.jpg Daniel Mortimer Friedman (acting) January 1977 – March 1977 Jimmy Carter
75px Wade H. McCree March 1977 – August 1981
75px Rex E. Lee August 1981 – June 1985 Ronald Reagan
Charles Fried.jpg Charles Fried October 1985 – January 1989
75px Kenneth W. Starr May 26, 1989 – January 20, 1993 George H. W. Bush
Official roberts CJ.jpg John Roberts (acting) 1990 for the purposes of one case when Ken Starr had a conflict[7] George H. W. Bush
Drew S. Days, III.jpg Drew S. Days, III May 1993 – July 1996 Bill Clinton
Walter E. Dellinger III.jpg Walter E. Dellinger III (acting) August 1996 – October 1997
Waxman.jpg Seth P. Waxman November 1997 – January 2001
Barbara D. Underwood (acting) January 2001 – June 2001 George W. Bush
Theodore Olson.jpg Theodore B. Olson June 2001 – July 2004
75px Paul D. Clement June 2004 – June 2005 (acting)
June 2005 – June 2008
Gregory G. Garre.jpg Gregory G. Garre June 2008 – October 2008 (acting)
October 2008 – January 2009
Edwin Kneedler.jpg Edwin Kneedler January 2009 – March 2009 (acting) Barack Obama
Elena Kagan SCOTUS portrait.jpg Elena Kagan March 2009 – May 2010
Neal Katyal portrait.jpg Neal Katyal May 2010 – June 2011 (acting)
Donald Verrilli -DOJ Portrait-.jpg Donald Verrilli Jr. June 2011 – present

List of Principal Deputy Solicitors General


  1. Mauro, Tony (June 10, 2011). "Verrilli Sworn In as Solicitor General". The Blog of Legal Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Abrams, Jim (June 6, 2011). "Senate Confirms Obama lawyer as Solicitor General". Seattle Times. Retrieved June 6, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Obama, Barack (June 4, 2013). Remarks by the President on the Nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Speech). Office of the Press Secretary, The White House.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Bhatia, Kedar S. (April 17, 2011). "Updated Advocate Scorecard (OT00-10)". Daily Writ.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Caplan, Lincoln (1987). The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law. New York: Knopf.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[page needed]
  6. Thompson, David C.; Wachtell, Melanie F. (2009). "An Empirical Analysis of Supreme Court Certiorari Petition Procedures". George Mason University Law Review. 16 (2): 237, 275. SSRN 1377522.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 Lederman, Marty (September 8, 2005). "John Roberts and the SG's Refusal to Defend Federal Statutes in Metro Broadcasting v. FCC". Balkinization Blog. Retrieved March 1, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Waxman, Seth (June 1, 1998). "'Presenting the Case of the United States As It Should Be': The Solicitor General in Historical Context". Address to the Supreme Court Historical Society. Retrieved June 7, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Black, Ryan C.; Owens, Ryan J. (April 30, 2012). The Solicitor General and the United States Supreme Court: Executive Branch Influence and Judicial Decisions. Cambridge University Press. pp. 142–143. ISBN 9781107015296. OCLC 761858397.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 McElroy, Lisa (February 10, 2010). ""CVSG"s in plain English". ScotusBlog. Retrieved January 13, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Lepore, Stefanie (December 2010). "The Development of the Supreme Court Practice of Calling for the Views of the Solicitor General". Journal of Supreme Court History. Retrieved January 14, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Elman, Philip; Silber, Norman (February 1987). "The Solicitor General's Office, Justice Frankfurter, and Civil Rights Litigation, 1946-1960: An Oral History". Harvard Law Review. 100 (4): 817–852. doi:10.2307/1341096.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Suter, William. "Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court". U.S. Supreme Court Week (Interview). C-SPAN.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Toobin, Jeffrey. "Money Unlimited, How Chief Justice John Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 16, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "General relativity". Grammarphobia. May 20, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Herz, Michael (Spring 2003). "Generals, Generals Everywhere".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Bruhl, Aaron (March 1, 2010). "Solicitor General Confessions of Error". PrawfsBlawg. Retrieved February 23, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Discussing GVRs (grant, vacate, remand) in the context of confessions of error).
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Nixon's Men: All Work and No Frills". The New York Times. March 21, 1973. p. 47.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Biographies of Current Justices of the Supreme Court.
  20. Stephanie Woodrow, Ex-Prosecutor to Join New York Attorney General's Office, Main Justice, Dec. 23, 2010.
  21. S. Hrg. 109-46
  22. U.S. Department of Justice, Paul Clement to Serve As Acting Solicitor General, July 12, 2004.
  23. Tom Goldstein, Neal Katyal to be Principal Deputy Solicitor General, SCOTUSblog, January 17, 2009.
  24. Brent Kendall, Feds Prevail in Spat with Former Acting Solicitor General, Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2012
  25. Ashby Jones, DOJ Taps 34-Year-Old for High-Ranking Position in SG's Office, Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2010
  26. Tony Mauro, Surprise Appointment in SG's Office, The BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times, Aug. 10, 2010.
  27. U.S. Department of Justice, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Appoints Sri Srinivasan as Principal Deputy Solicitor General, Aug. 26, 2011.
  28. Sri Srinivasan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  29. Tom Goldstein, The new Principal Deputy Solicitor General, SCOTUSblog, Aug. 9, 2013.
  30. Tony Mauro, Gershengorn Named Principal Deputy Solicitor General, The BLT: The Blog of the Legal Times, Aug. 12, 2013


  • Caplan, Lincoln (1987). The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law. New York: Knopf.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hall, Kermit L. (1992). The Oxford Guide to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links